At the end of April, the head of the Anglican Church – the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby – plans to embark on a Canadian tour. I was told that he will head to Saskatchewan before travelling to southern Ontario for a visit with survivors of the Mohawk Institute Indian Residential School, which was run by Anglican priests. Historical records show 48 children died there, and now, an exhaustive search is under way on 600 acres of Six Nations’ grounds for those who never went home.
While the majority of residential schools in Canada were run by the Catholic Church, the Anglicans ran three dozen of these so-called schools across the country, including the Shingwauk Indian Residential School in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., and Bishop Horden Memorial School in Moose Factory, Ont. Thousands of children are now being recovered from the sites of schools just like the Mohawk Institute; on Thursday, 14 more potential gravesites were located in Saskatchewan, at the former Anglican-run Gordon’s Indian Residential School.
And it seems to be the season for apologies. But it is unclear if restitution is anywhere on the horizon.
Earlier this month, an Indigenous delegation of Métis, First Nations and Inuit secured an apology of sorts from Pope Francis after a five-day visit to Rome. It came seven years after it was demanded by the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report, which aimed to set Canada on a path forward after education was used as a tool of genocide. Violently removing people from the land and stealing children to send to these so-called schools disconnected children from their languages and families, and perpetuated a cycle of profound harm.
Pope Francis will arrive in Canada after his Anglican counterpart, in July; he told delegates in Rome that he didn’t want to come in the winter. He will reportedly only make three stops: in Edmonton, Iqaluit and Quebec City. Granted, three is better than one, but what will come after the apology tour holds the most interest. No doubt, the bill of restitution should be in the billions – beyond the $22-million the Catholic Church still owes but has refused to pay ever since the 2006 Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement.
For the Anglicans’ part, they have apologized before. Primate Michael Peers did so in 1993, and Primate Fred Hiltz delivered an “Apology for Spiritual Harm” in 2019. However, many First Nations leaders have continued to chase the Anglican Church for its long-promised apology to the victims of Ralph Rowe, the former Anglican priest and pilot who flew around Northern Ontario First Nations communities in the 1970s and 1980s, and was later convicted of sexually abusing young boys – as many as 500. And just this week, Rev. Mark MacDonald – the Anglican Church of Canada’s first national bishop responsible for representing Indigenous church members – resigned over allegations of sexual misconduct.
No number of apologies can ever be enough to truly forgive what has happened to survivors and their families. If the Archbishop of Canterbury wants to visit, he had better come prepared to offer financial support for the revitalization of languages that the church did so much to wipe out, and with a true promise to release all Anglican Church records and those from the New England Company, which ran the Mohawk Institute from 1885 to 1920.
But why isn’t the Archbishop of Canterbury going to more communities? Complications even around visits scheduled by the Anglican Church may give some indication. At first, I was told that the Archbishop’s meeting with Mohawk Institute survivors would take place at the school itself, but that turned out to be premature. After some “confusion over protocols,” the on-site meeting has been cancelled.
The Institute’s Survivors’ Secretariat has asked the Anglican Primate to indicate what terms and topics the survivors would meet to discuss, because they would not be interested in a meeting if it was limited to platitudes. “They want action,” says Kim Murray, the Kanehsatake lawyer who heads up the Secretariat.
The former Institute’s large, red brick building is as institutional and unfriendly as the Kamloops Indian Residential School; they are among the few that have been kept standing for educational purposes. The Mohawk Institute is now the Woodland Cultural Centre, and it is being meticulously restored so it can be used for the opposite of what it was created for: to teach language, learn traditions and remember.
That both buildings remain is a testament to what occurred, to communities’ resilience and desire for healing, and to what should never be forgotten. And indeed, toward the rear of the former Mohawk Institute is a wall of brick, where former students appear to have carved their initials, as if they were little prisoners. None of the names or words are long – they must have had to carve quickly so they were not seen – but one heart-stopping message among them says it all: “Help.”
It is time that the churches finally listen.